“When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.”
My father, Julio R. Carricarte, was born in Cuba on October 1, 1914. Just 3 months before he turned 80, he suffered a massive stroke that left him unable to speak or walk. Essentially, he was trapped in his body. Since he was non-ambulatory, and needed total care, we made the decision to place him in a nursing home…..and that’s an entirely different blog all together! He crossed over on July 7, 1999 at the age of 84. I was 40 at the time and can now look back and see everything I didn’t know that I didn’t know!
My dad and I always called each other “Honey-Honey.” It’s something he started when I was very young, and I just followed along. It was our special “something-something.” To be honest with you, I have no recollection of how or when it started, but it’s a nickname that I held onto until the last day I spoke to him: the day before he crossed over. The day I gave him permission to let go, because I was going on vacation three days later, and I told him so. I told him that if he wanted to let go, he had to do so BEFORE I left, because Mama could not have handled that on her own. He passed the next day and looked as beautiful as ever and just as I had left him the day prior (unlike two days before where he was distressed and on oxygen). That’s a call I will always remember getting!
Over the years, there were many calls: he fell, he hurt himself, he pulled out his feeding tube, he was being sent to the ER, etc., etc., etc. But that Wednesday at around 7:45 on the evening of July 7th, I had a fleeting thought of going to visit him but decided against it, because I wanted to remember him glowing, sparkling and present (should something happen while I was away). I got “the call” shortly thereafter within a half hour. Now mind you, I never worried about getting a call from the nursing home. Over the years, it’s something one becomes immune to. This call was different: the nurse asked me right up front if I was alone or had someone with me. In that instant, I knew! As a matter of fact, when I told her I had someone with me, and asked if it was finally over, she responded, “Yes.” My body exhaled like never before. Ironically my body felt like Jello, so I’m glad I was not alone. I took deep breaths, collected myself, called Cousin Al and made the decision to tell Mama the following morning.
At the time, I literally lived about 20 minutes from the nursing home, so I got there in no time. I remember how warm his body felt. I remember cleaning his hands and under his finger nails. I remember him looking as if he was sleeping, I remember him at peace…finally! I remember being grateful for giving him permission to let go. At that point, he was a shell of the man I knew as my Honey-Honey. He had withered away. He had given up the fight years earlier. It was time, and I am blessed to have had him in my life as long as I did…even though I didn’t know what I didn’t know at the time!
Honey-Honey was a character! Ask anyone who knew him, and they will attest to that. His humor, the glint in his eyes, “the look” he’d cast with that smirk on his lips (strabismus eye and all – it would take a while for you to be able to focus on the eye that was looking directly at you). He had a sense of humor that would bring you to tears and the biggest heart that would give you his last penny and make you feel like everything was going to be OK. He was gregarious, outspoken, a spokesperson for others, and deeply loved and admired by all who knew him.
My Honey-Honey LOVED life! As I may have mentioned in a blog long ago (or I’m totally making this up), I asked him what words of wisdom he had to share with me on the occasion of his youthful and vivacious 79 years of age. How ironic that this conversation took place just days before he suffered his devastating stroke and was never able to form a sentence or articulate a feeling other than a vehement “No” or a few choice curse words. This from a man who never cursed in front of me!
I do recall his eyes during those times…..oh those eyes! They were like daggers to my heart. Oh, and the way he would hold my hand, fingers interlaced, and place it on his chest as he looked at me with those damn eyes! My heart would break. I couldn’t handle when he would break down and cry sometimes. I didn’t know at the time, but I could feel his entrapment, his pain, his frustration, and his embarrassment as he lost his independence and needed someone to care for his most basic needs. I felt his desperation in wanting to be free as well as his exhaustion when he gave up the fight.
So, back to the question I asked him about his words of wisdom. In retrospect, where did I even manage to pull that question from? I mean yes, I was on some path to self-realization, but not nearly the “spiritual” path that lay ahead of me and that evolved over the decades. What was Honey- Honey’s answer? “Take one day at a time and live it to the fullest.” Then he went on to tell me and my husband at the time, Jorgie, how he would never be able to get a good night’s sleep if he worried about what the next day would bring. Furthermore, he said that was why my mother took so many “pills.” And of course he cast Mama one of his mischievous looks and silly grins as he said it!
At that point in his life, he wouldn’t even take an aspirin! Actually, he had a little “incident” and was taken to the ER a few week before his stroke. He was prescribed blood pressure meds, checked himself out of the hospital, and he decided not to take the prescribed medication. So what did he do with them? He flung the blood pressure meds out an eleventh floor window when my Mama was hounding him about taking his medication. That was my Honey- Honey!
Honey-Honey had a “strong character” yet was loving, funny, giving, and the epitome of “service.” Oh, and did I mention he was the forever “poster child” for living life out loud? He was vivacious, cheerful, a jokester, a prankster and the best dressed, best smelling, Dapper Dan in town! As a matter of fact, my mom (Ms. Fashionista herself) used to tell me stories of how he would get his suits custom-made in Cuba. Seriously!?!? And if that wasn’t enough, he would have two pairs of slacks made for each suit! Wow! Honey-Honey had come a long way!!! Of course, this was well after he first came to the states as a child and then went back to Cuba as a young adult (where he eventually met my Mama and got remarried).
Allow me to digress for a moment. Before Honey-Honey married Mama, he was married to a Jewish woman named Josephine. For some strange reason, I have their divorce decree. Weird! Apparently, he broke her heart (a trait I obviously inherited, and not proud of…wink, wink). By what my mother told me (because he never spoke about it), she died very young…leukemia or cancer…something like that. Don’t even ask me why I am sharing this, but I guess it is a story I want my nieces and nephew to know…family history!
So back to Honey-Honey’s childhood. He was one of four brothers born to an amazing mother named Angela Ramos (with too many surnames to even recall at this point in my life). I used to get a kick out of reciting all her names when I was a young child. My grand-mother, aka Nany, was a school teacher in Cuba in the early 1900’s and would have to travel by horseback to teach.
I can’t imagine how uncomfortable that must have been! Dresses, layers of undergarments, corsets, boots and coiffed hair-dos. I remember as a child looking at the old, tattered, sepia photos and being enthralled by them. Nany taught the children of “the help.” Class pictures looked like a scene out of The Little Rascals! Oh the eyes on those children, their expression, their mischievousness, their light, love and probably adoration for this beautiful human being who taught and loved them was visible to the naked eye! I believe her spirit lives on in my niece, Megan.
However, at some point, my grand-father (whom I never met) left my grandmother with four small boys (Louis, Henry, Eugene and my dad). My grand-father fled to Mexico (hence, the Carricarte families I learned of back in my running days upon seeing who made it into the NYC Marathon). As adolescents, my dad and his brothers were shipped off to boarding school in Virginia. The Virginia Military Academy to be specific. My Honey- Honey was eleven at the time (I believe he was the youngest of his siblings). It is there that he got a taste of what it was like to live in America. His experiences at the military academy shaped who he was to become as an adult, how he would choose to live a life of service and the legacy he would ultimately leave behind.
During one of our conversations, Honey-Honey shared with me how impacted he was by the generosity and compassion of the family members of his fellow cadets. So much so, that he would never forget it. You see, during holidays, everyone would return home to their families. Obviously, that was not an option for a kid from Cuba with no family in the states. He was embraced and taken in by his fellow cadets’ families during these times. That generosity of spirit is something that he always remembered, and I guess that is why Honey- Honey became the man that he became and left behind the legacy that he did!
Back in 1999, on the eve of his passing and when I started to ponder his eulogy, (as I recorded Frank Sinatra music to play at his funeral), I started to think about the words to say. I thought, “What tribute can you pay a man whose whole life was a tribute?” A tribute to goodness, kindness and generosity. A couple of weeks before his major stroke, he received the highest tribute and honor which he felt he did not deserve: He was given the Hudson County Senior Citizen of the Year Award! And he was up against a nun! He could NOT wrap his head around that (especially since he was not a church go-er). I’ll always remember how humbled he felt.
At his eulogy, I shared the following: ‘There really was no need for words. For my father’s life spoke loud and clear. He lived life as an exclamation, not an explanation. Julio, aka Honey-Honey, was a man who was always there to lend a hand or solve a problem for friends, family, neighbors or perfect strangers. A man you could call on at any hour of the day or night, and believe me, people called. A man who did not acknowledge the powerful word, “no.” It simply did not exist in his vocabulary when it came to helping, lending a hand or somehow serving. As a result of his illness, we’ve already missed this man and have paid numerous tributes to him over the years. This one, however, is the final tribute.”
I went on to share some of my favorite memories of Honey-Honey: grocery shopping with him as a child on Sundays after he picked me up from church; our yearly trips to Florida and how he always got lost because there was “always a better or quicker” route to take; the array of “fix-me-upper” cars he would get at auction and put them back together again (always having parts left over) – this is true – Cousin Al, the family historian, will attest to it; the hearty appetites and needing to eat steak even if Mama made chicken (according to him, chicken was bird food); the gusto with which he ate his food (a foodie for sure even though the term didn’t exist back then); the hearty servings of cantaloupe (get this- filled with vanilla ice-cream and pancake syrup); the loose bills he always had in his pocket (which sometimes he lost, and sometimes my mother just helped herself to); his pockets filled with coupons for Shop-Rite and his multiple weekly runs to redeem them; indulging in Aramis soaps, cologne, aftershave, body lotions and potions (so that his skin would be as soft as a baby’s behind); his joy for spoiling and buying things for his grand-children (even buying bags of groceries filled with their favorite cookies, ice-cream and other treats). Obviously, I had to stop somewhere, or I could have gone on and on. We would have been there for days!
My intention was to give you, as I did with everyone present the day of his funeral, a snapshot of my fondest memories. Yet, my fondest and most heart-warming memory of my Honey-Honey was his zest for life. His joie de vivre. His exuberance. His ability to take live his life as if it was his last day on earth. In his own words, “If I was to worry about tomorrow or things to come, I would not enjoy today nor would I be able to sleep at night.” These are the wisest of words, my darlings! Remember them…I sure do!
My consolation at the end of his physical life form here on earth was that, prior to his stroke, Honey-Honey did live each day to the fullest. His words of wisdom will forever ring in my ears and in my heart. I can’t tell you how many people I have spoken those word to and and with whom I shared his sage advice.
Honey-Honey was loved by everyone who knew him. I can now clearly see and appreciate his big personality, his loyalty, boldness, braveness, tenacity, relentlessness, joyfulness, resilience and fearlessness, as well as his ability to detach, accept, forgive, surrender and let go. Julio R. Carricarte led from his heart. He taught me to do the same.
My greatest desire at this stage of my life is to leave behind a legacy of love and service, like my Honey- Honey, and to inspire others to do the same- especially his grand-children whom he deeply loved and great-grandchildren whom he never met. It is my hope that both our legacies will live on in the hearts and minds of generations to come.
Thank you, Honey- Honey! I hope you are proud of how I am filling those big shoes you left behind. I love you!
Inhale Love & Light…Exhale Grace & Gratitude, JTC